Lyrics don't start when I expect them to in a song - is there a name?
May 1, 2014 3:59 AM   Subscribe

In the song Dark Storm by The Jezabels (YouTube link), the first 25 seconds are a neat little bass (guitar?) riff. When I listen, it sounds like the very first note, the highest pitch note, is the first note of the measure, and that it should repeat like that throughout the song. But does it?

To me, the vocals kick when I don't expect it, and when they do, the guitar beat seems to have shifted ever so slightly. I mentally adjust, and then follow along with the guitar and think 'Oh, so the first/accented beat is actually there'. But then when I rewind the song and try to apply that pattern to the first 25 seconds, it doesn't match up.

(Apologies for such awkward language, I don't know what terms to use!)

I guess my first question is: is it just me who hears this?

And if others can hear this, is there a name for something like this, or can someone explain to me using either plain English or proper musical terms what is happening?
posted by UltraFleece to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what it is that you're hearing. To my ears, the guitar part repeats twice before the vocals come in. There's no set rule about where the beginning of a vocal line should be placed, but in this case it comes at the most obvious point. The guitar part then plays more or less the same part twice more with the vocals, before the whole band kicks in, continuing to play the same repeated chord sequence. It sounds very straightforward I think.
posted by cincinnatus c at 4:15 AM on May 1, 2014

It sounds to me as if the vocals enter on an offbeat, and are also maybe sung a little "behind" the beat.

Putting emphasis on a weak beat is called "syncopation".

That was a great song, thanks.
posted by thelonius at 4:31 AM on May 1, 2014

There are several songs where I experience exactly what you are talking about.

But in this case I thought that her first two notes were pickups. After The vocal entrance it still seems to me that 1 is on the highest note of the guitar riff. She is fighting the beat a little I think.
posted by bunderful at 4:35 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess my first question is: is it just me who hears this?

No, I hear it too. I first heard this song a couple years ago and I listen to it a lot and I've always heard the thing you're describing and wondering if it was just me.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:39 AM on May 1, 2014

Yes, the vocals come in early on the first 2 lines, cutting into the end of the previous bar. I think the intention is for the song to start in a slightly chaotic way before settling into the normal rhythm.
posted by w0mbat at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2014

There are a few names for this, but the most common I've heard is "metric fakeout" - here's a reddit thread talking about it and linking to several examples.

It's been a device for quite a while in popular music - for instance, Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop did it in 1971. I'm sure there are earlier examples. Basically what's going on is that something - usually a guitar or a keyboard part - implies that the beginning of the bar is slightly earlier or later than it actually is by emphasising an offbeat. When the vocals or drums enter the actual downbeat is revealed and your brain does a little stumble and recalculation.

The most extreme example I know of this is the song Videotape from the Radiohead album In Rainbows - the album version never actually has a 'reveal', but you can hear from early performances that the piano chords were originally on the offbeat and the whole thing was heavily syncopated.
posted by spielzebub at 7:55 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should add - as people have said earlier, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to hear a song, but to me the interpretation that makes the most sense is that the vocals and drums for the first thirty seconds are on the beat, and the bass riff is on the offbeat.

It's impossible to tell what the band originally intended to convey in terms of rhythm - even if you tracked them down and asked them, they might have conflicting answers, or even lie - but since you can fit the whole thing into a regular meter if you assume that bass riff is offbeat, that makes the most sense to me, so that's how I choose to hear it.
posted by spielzebub at 8:18 AM on May 1, 2014

The way I hear it, it just has a really wide pocket at the start. It's intentionally loose feeling. That can bother some people and others might not even notice it, but it's intentional so that when it resolves back into a tighter pocket you feel better and into the groove.
posted by cmm at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2014

Madonna's Candy Perfume Girl does this.
posted by sixswitch at 7:59 PM on May 1, 2014

The first song that really messed with my mind this way was Spirits In The Material World (30+ years ago, geez). Especially at the transition to the first chorus. I'm still not totally sure what's happening. The kick drum in the verse is on the "and" of beats 2 and 4, and my mind wants so badly to feel that kick drum as a downbeat. Then it somehow turns into a straight rock beat for the chorus.
posted by thelonius at 4:08 AM on May 2, 2014

thelonius - the kick's on the 2 and 4 in the verse and the synth strings are on the offbeats (the 'ands'). Lots of reggae has weird syncopation like this - chords on the offbeats is more common in ska, but the feel originated in reggae, which was a major influence for The Police.
posted by spielzebub at 5:36 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will listen again - I am for sure getting the old "where is one?" experience on that song. I think I have a live version somewhere, too. spielzebub, I sent you MeMail, since I think I am off-topic now.....
posted by thelonius at 2:53 PM on May 2, 2014

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